The PGA Tour Returns to Florida

The par-3 17th, the last hole of the three-hole "BearTrap" at PGA National

With this week’s Honda Classic from PGA National Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, the Tour cranks up its four-tournament, pre-Spring swing through the Sunshine State:

Honda Classic, PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens

WGC-Cadillac Championship, TPC Blue Monster at Doral, Miami

Transitions Championship, Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbor (Tampa)

Arnold Palmer Invitational, Bay Hill Club, Orlando

These tournaments are important. While the West Coast Swing is the tune-up for the year, the Florida Swing is the springboard to the Masters (with the Masters-like course set-up in Houston the week after and the week before the Masters, the launching point).

The Honda Classic is important because it marks the return to Florida’s conditions: Bermuda-grass greens whose grain has the power to carry a ball off its intended line; higher humidity and therefore, heavy air; blustery winds, lots of water on the courses and uh, alligators! (The only ones I’ve seen are very shy of humans, but it always helps Florida to hype the drama of one’s first encounter with a gator.)

With Tiger Wood’s move from Orlando to Jupiter, the next town north of Palm Beach Gardens, the Honda has become a home game for Tiger…and he’s playing! And he’s not the only one calling Jupiter home with the likes of Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Camilo Villegas among others. Writing at, Brain Wacker puts together a nice compendium of who’s who and which of the three major clubs they belong to. The greater West Palm Beach area is a hot bed of Tour players.

And the Tour has done a good job of putting together the pairings we all want to see on Thursday. Here are those morning pairings:

Ben Crane, Fredrik Jacobson, Charles Howell III

Johnson Wagner, Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen

Jim Furyk, Y.E. Yang, Henrik Stenson

Kyle Stanley, Keegan Bradley, Rory McIlroy

Mark Wilson, Rory Sabbatini, Camilo Villegas

And here are those afternoon pairings:

Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Tiger Woods

John Huh, Charl Schwartzel, Ernie Els

Darren Clarke, Heath Slocum, Padraig Harrington

And finally we have the perenial attraction, “The Bear Trap,” the par-3 15th, par-4 16th and par-3 17th holes. Not such a big deal until you know that all three involve shots across water to the greens. Not such a big deal until you know that when the winds are whipping across those greens, not only is it hard to hit the green, it’s hard to hit dry land.

And when you do, for example on the 15th, you might be in the left hand bunker hitting a sand shot towards the water to green sloping away from you. On the 16th, you could have an approach shot over 200 yards…into the wind. And on the 17th, the green is canted from short left to long right and all carry over water. The normal shot would be a cut, but how much do you cut it when the wind is howling left to right? Do you dare cut it when the wind is blowing left to right? A lot of balls have met their demise on these three holes along with the demise of the round of the player who hit them.

But like so many golf courses these days, if the wind is down at PGA National, the course is pretty defenseless against these great players. Rory Sabbatini won last year by one stroke at just 9-under par. He shot 71, 64, 66, 70. So you can pretty much guess which two days the wind was blowing and which two it was not.

Windy golf is like a box of chocolates…

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